Monday 21 September 2015

Once more around the pig. Pork party pieces - belly and shoulder.

This pig piece has been pulled (if you'll pardon the pun), purloined, pinched, plundered and plucked from previous porky parables. It's a porcine palimpsest, if I may be so pretentious.

Do I win the alliteration prize?

But with temperatures falling and parties approaching (stop it!) I did think this was a good time to revisit the best of the slow cooked pork dishes. The other reason (ahem) is that I've been invited to do a cooking demo, my first public outing, at the Enfield Food Festival and I've discussed both belly and shoulder with Emma, one of the organisers.

Belly has a rep for being fatty and it indisputably is. So unless you like your adipose tissue (I really don't) it needs long slow cooking to melt the fat and lubricate the meat.

Shoulder is another very economical joint. Usually roasted larger than the belly cuts. Bigger is better. What are you doing on Boxing day?

Pork is actually the most eaten meat in the world. Yes, Google-pedants, more so than goat! True more people may eat goat but more pork is eaten. That's clear isn't it? Look, I'm not casting asparagus at anyone but a clue may be in the phrase 'to pork-out'?

A real crowd pleaser

Slow roast pork belly 

Serves about ten.
Buy a 3kg pork belly. This will necessitate a trip to your local butchers, hopefully not for the first time. Don't bother with the supermarket; you'll be needing a butcher not just someone who unwraps meat. Hey, while you're there, see if they have any beef shin, or ham hock. Maybe some oxtail and marrow bones for stock? They're not in this recipe but you'll thank me when you get home. If you're used to those prissy little plastic supermarket packs, the size may shock you. Worry not. We can do this. Ask the butcher to leave the belly on the bones (ribs) but maybe loosen them a little.Preheat the oven to maximum or 240°C. Don't go higher than this, as something: fat, veg, your actual oven, will start to smoke and taint the meat (and your house) with an acrid smell.

One tip with crackling: have your butcher score the skin into squares rather the the more traditional diagonals. It makes it much easier to portion up your meat when you cut into existing grooves rather than across the glass like crackling.

You could also ask your butcher to remove the rib bones if there are any but I like to leave them on. They pull away effortlessly at the end anyway and they make fine eating.

You need a baking tray large enough to lay out the belly but that will also fit in your oven. If your skin is not scored you might find it a struggle to do it yourself. Pig skin seems designed to blunt steel! One solution, is to first fill your roasting tray with boiling water to a depth of a centimetre. Remove the belly from the rack, place it SKIN SIDE DOWN in the water and boil for 15 mins.This will soften the skin without cooking the meat. Remove the belly from the tray and place skin side up on a clean J–cloth or towel. You should now be able to score the skin finely. You'll still need a sharp knife.

Now you have scored skin, dry it off completely using kitchen roll or a clean tea towel or a new J-cloth. Now rub in some neutral tasting oil - grapeseed or groundnut is good. Grind just less than a tablespoon of fennel seeds with the same amount of sea salt and rub this into the skin. You can rub in other stuff too: sugar, honey, allspice, cinnamon but I prefer to let the pork sing solo.

There's no secret to good crackling although it's obviously harder to crisp up something damp. I think the biggest factor (surprise!) is the quality of the animal. A happy pig will have the right layer of fat under the skin.

Yes. You do. Right now. Unless you're a vegetarian. In which case, click the little X top left. There's nothing for you here.

Tip the water out of the baking tray and replace the belly on a rack in the tray. The rack is important. Cook in the very hot oven for 15-20 mins until the skin starts to blister. While that's happening, cut up four carrots, two sticks of celery, two leeks and two onions and two green apples. The exact amounts really aren't critical. 

What's a good fistful of rosemary? This is.
Now turn the oven down to 150°C. Use the fan setting if you have it - helps the crackling. Place the veg under the pork (it's on a rack, remember?). Pour in at least 200ml of white wine, vermouth, apple juicestock or water or a combo of any of these. Take a care though as this will be the basis of your gravy. To the now wet veg add a good fistful of rosemary. And I really mean a good fistful.

Roast this (uncovered) for at least three hours. It could be four,  five or six - in which case, drop the oven down to 140°C. The meat won't really suffer because there's so much moisture in the fat. Top up the tray liquid if it starts drying out - and it will. Don't let the veg burn or your gravy will be acrid.

The meat will be very tender, the fat should have rendered off into the veg below and the skin should now be glassy and delicious.

If (after the shorter timings) the crackling isn't to your liking, remove the meat from the tray and bake it at the hottest setting again for 10-15 minutes directly on the oven rack. It should puff and crisp up. To avoid setting off your smoke alarms, put some foil in another shelf under the pork to catch drips.

Remove the meat and allow to rest while you sieve the veg and pork juices into a pan. Season the gravy, thicken it if you like (with cornflour or beurre manis). I whisk in some ice cold, cubed butter just before serving - if you do this, the gravy shouldn't be boiling. You'll also probably want to sweeten the gravy too. A pinch of sugar is an obvious choice, but you could use redcurrant jelly or honey or even something like these. I use a home-made rosemary jam... but I would.

I serve the pork with parsnip and apple puree, some sort of cabbage (green or red) and some pots en pap. This is not one to dish up at the table. The crackling needs some serious endeavour and this can look ugly. Hide your industry in the kitchen.

Served here with port gravy, butter fried kale and apple & parsnip purée

Pork Shoulder.

For six people order a two kilo joint.
For ten, you'll want three or four kilos which will keep you in sandwiches for the week also.
Anything above five kilos you need to be throwing open your home to neighbours and not needing your oven overnight.

Same instructions really as the belly really. With anything over four kilos I'd recommend an overnight roast. Very low and slow. A small joint can be roasted without covering, a large needs a lid to retain moisture. If you don't have a lidded pot big enough, make a triple layer foil tent over a roasting dish or deep tray. There will be much liquid at the end of the cooking process  You can always remove and crisp the crackling separately when needed, as I'm doing in the picture below.

I'd just cut under the crackling to remove it. It didn't slide off. I like to strip away some of the soft white fat too.

Friends had asked me to do a large shoulder joint for their dad's 80th birthday. I thought I'd best check my timings beforehand. So I ordered a shoulder of orchard fed pig from Jim in F. Norman, on the parade in Oakwood. Belinda picked it up for me on Friday afternoon. I was expecting, indeed my recipe stated, a 3-5 pound joint, about two kilos. Some miscommunication had occurred however - my fault - and what arrived weighed thirteen pounds plus; basically a stone of pork. "We'll need to get some friends around."


We invited a dozen people, friends, exes, liggers and a few social climbers we just can't shake off. We expected half to already have plans; the way middle class people always do. (I don't. I never have plans.) But none did. Coupled with kids and family, my weekend was fast turning into a pulled pork party. And yeah, double entendres on a postcard please.

Et made his kimchi coleslaw, although not nearly enough (my fault). I severely underestimated how much people would like it. Bread from Holtwhites of course. Sadly not my custom semi-brioche buns, these were simple floury, quotidian baps but still excellent of course. I also made some hummus/hummous/hoummmous and flamed a few plum tomatoes.

Pulled pork. And this is after everyone had eaten.
The massive locusts are in fact pieces of fat crackling. Slightly over done.
This is what happens when I drink and drive an oven.
But it wasn't going to be eaten that night. A stone of shoulder needs a low and slow approach. Initially 90°C and then 120°C to crisp the skin - sixteen hours in total. It starts off as a roast but covered, in a large Dutch oven it soon becomes a braise as the tin fills with juices and fats. By Saturday evening it really was falling off the bones. I simply lifted them out, along with any large chunks of fat - not an onerous task. I also sliced the skin off to crisp properly in a 240°C fan oven. I shredded the meat into the copious roasting juices and then stirred in some barbecue sauce. Etien took exception to this. Next time he wants a simple fennel seed and salt roast.
With pickled fennel, black cabbage,
apple gravy and cauliflower pure
Yes, next time. But when time? Not soon. There's a lot of meat on a large shoulder. After fifteen people ate their fill we still had half left. There then followed a week of porky wonder. Porky sandwiches, porky salad, porky pizza topping, filled porky pitta pockets, porky pasta with a creamy mushroom sauce. Ten days on and there's still a fistful lurking in Tupperware. I fear that'll be binned.

Altogether that one £35 joint served up at least 35 meals and that's not even including those who had seconds at the original evening. Seems like a good deal. Mind, I have no idea what sixteen hours of oven costs.

Now read about pork loin. The pic below is dressed with garlic and balsamic. I often serve it with lentils and a winter salad of pickled apple.

Sweet & sour red cabbage
Good things to serve with pork include: 

Pickled fennel
Kimchee coleslaw (scroll to the bottom)
Sweet and sour red cabbage
Fennel 'crash' potatoes
Crushed peas and broad beans
Cauliflower purée
Bramley and parsnip purée - just discovered I've never written this up. Will do soon.

Etien's kimchee coleslaw

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